We asked Cambridge freshers if they regret coming to university this year

Even 2020 vision couldn’t have predicted an online Lent term

Freshers’ Week has always been sold to us as the best week of our lives, yet with our main social interactions being sitting in a Marquee in the freezing cold with your household, this year’s cohort of freshers has been left with the wrong end of the bargain. Whether it was the lack of in-person lectures, nights out, society socials, or attending a Union debate, Michaelmas 2020 presented a very different version of Cambridge to freshers.

We asked freshers for their opinions about how Covid-19 has impacted the start of their degree, their fresher experience, their thoughts on online learning in Lent term, and, ultimately, whether they regret starting Cambridge in a pandemic.

Freshers finding ways to have Covid-appropriate fun (Photo Credit: Charlotte Scott-Haynes)

Many freshers have felt disappointed by the social side of Cambridge 

When asked what the freshers felt most sad about missing, an overwhelming majority of people mentioned the typical university experience with nights out, societies, as well as more Cambridge-centric traditions such as formals. One Girton history student told The Tab they were sad they missed “the rush of meeting loads of new people in the first term, on nights out or just in college.

This sentiment was echoed pretty much universally: whilst most people have found that they could make friends with their household or subject peers, they lacked the ability to meet people in other colleges or doing other subjects. However, some have struggled further, with one Newnham student saying “it’s been borderline impossible to make friends and any that I did make it’s been impossible to sustain those friendships.”

Peterhouse Matriculation (Photo Credit: Sophie Carlin)

However, the majority are still glad they came to Cambridge this year

About 75 per cent of freshers said they didn’t regret their decision not to defer, leaving the rest with either mixed opinions or wishing they had deferred. Although wishes to defer were likely more common than previous years, it is not as high as expected, given the overwhelming negative responses about social experience. A fresher from Selwyn studying mathematics said that although they were sad to miss out on “opportunities to meet new people”, overall they had “still enjoyed Michaelmas.”

Responses about regret in coming to Cambridge were extremely varied between colleges, perhaps due to the fact that many colleges had different restrictions in place, with some colleges allegedly going above and beyond government guidelines. Despite the circumstances,  58 per cent of students asked felt their college had done the best they could in providing the Cambridge experience, although 38 per cent told The Tab they were disappointed with their college’s response to the restrictions. 

Socialising has been limited to within households only (Photo Credit: Ellie Kennedy)

There is little use dwelling on the past or mulling over how the experience might have been better or different. Now, the most pressing challenge for undergraduates will be, whether for the first or second time, how to navigate online learning:

Virtual learning brings its challenges but also benefits

The atmosphere of general frustration online and in Cambridge suggested most people would be worried that lockdown would affect their ability to live and study to their full potential. This sentiment was definitely shared amongst this year’s freshers, with a Christ’s student saying that whilst they “underst[ood] why it needs to be done, it is harder to focus and perform to the best of my ability” and many students feeling concerned with the prospect of long days spent in-front of laptop screens. 

However, others expressed more nuanced opinions, reflective of the sub-par working conditions last term and the many positives of online learning. A Selwyn ASNaC student told The Tab that part of them was glad that they were able to remain at home for Lent term, saying “the pandemic meant that I felt very isolated last term, and my mental health suffered for it. I feel a little better at home as I’m around people I know and love.”

For many people, remote online learning can offer a wealth of more accessible resources and opportunities and was seen as something to be embraced. A Newnham fresher studying bio-natural sciences agreed with this sentiment, telling The Tab that for them online learning was a blessing as “being chronically ill and tired all the time I definitely couldn’t handle the three hour long practicals right now.” In this regard, the forced move to online learning should be embraced as an opportunity for learning to become more accessible for all students. 

Starting university in a pandemic was never going to be easy, and this year’s freshers have certainly had obstacle after obstacle thrown at them.  Still, hopefully, it’s all up from here, and perhaps by the time we graduate, we’ll be able to experience the in-person lectures, smoking areas and bops we were sold on open days. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this term will prove a challenge, but also perhaps an opportunity for camaraderie and perseverance.

Featured image photo credit: Sophie Carlin

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